Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I am the Heretic of Dune

I'm about to blaspheme. I hated most of the original Dune books. Actually, I didn't so much hate them, as find them so tedious and incomprehensible that I just couldn't finish them. I've read the original Dune novel several times and it's a work of art. The good kind of art that's fun and memorable, not the crummy kind of art that doesn't make sense and makes you suspect that the art snobs are playing a joke on you. I've tried to read the sequels several times, though, but I don't think I've ever finished more than the second book in the series. And I didn't particularly enjoy it.

Part of the problem is that the end of Dune sets up an intergalactic jihad in which Paul Muad'Dib's Fremen warriors are about to spread throughout the imperium conquering all known worlds. And then... they do. Off-stage. We never get to see or experience any of it - it's just over. That was a HUGE letdown for me, and started the rest of the series off on a sour note that I never recovered from. Plus, it just felt boring.

So for many years, I was left with no satisfying window into the Dune universe. Then Frank Herbert's son Brian came along and, along with Kevin J. Anderson, took up the gauntlet and began to tell stories of Dune once again. They're widely-criticized despite being bestsellers, but I don't care. I've enjoyed them very much.

The first series I read went back in time just a short way, to tell the story of three key houses of the Landsraad (the equivalent of a House of Lords, sort of) in the time of Paul Atradies' father's youth. We got to see the rise of Duke Leto Atraides and his comrades, we got to experience the evils of House Harkonnen and their victims, and we got to watch the machinations of House Corrino, and the emperor. Woven through it all were the Bene Gesserit sisterhood with their objective of genetically manipulating the great families to create their own uber-mensch, the Kwisatz Haderach. The vile Tleilaxu also played their roles, with their chemical and biological modifications and experiments, so reminiscent of Joseph Mengele. But best of all, the stories were both entertaining and very true to the original Dune book in theme and in style.

The next series I read went much farther back in time, to tell the story of the fall of mankind's civilization at the hands of the thinking computers. They explained much about the origins of key houses, the reasons for the Bene Gesserit, the Mentats, and the prohibition against thinking machines, and even explained the origins of technologies such as shields, lasguns, and the ability to fold space for instantaneous travel. Again, I found them much more entertaining than the later books in the original series, and worthy successors to the legacy Herbert created in the original Dune.

Most recently, I read their series covering the time just after the end of the first Dune book. At last, the story of the Great Jihad was being told. It was excellent and again did a terrific job of pulling me back into all the parts of the original Dune book that I loved so much.

If you loved the entire original Dune series, I can't really predict how you'll feel about these newer books. Some people who liked Frank Herbert's books seem to find these new novels blasphemous. If you're just looking for a good, entertaining read that takes place in the Dune universe, then you could do a lot worse than to pick up these novels. I'm very glad that I did.

No comments:

Post a Comment